PUTIN'S ANNUAL ADDRESS TO THE NATION TAKEN POSITIVELY BY SOME...
Russian analysts and politicians from centrist and liberal ranks generally reacted positively to Russian President Vladimir Putin's annual State of the Nation address delivered to the Federal Assembly on 18 April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 March 2002). Sergei Markov, the director of the Institute of Political Research, commented that Putin had attempted in his speech to present a business plan for Russia, calling on the country to integrate itself with Europe, requesting that the population try to make more money to help develop the economy, and that the government eliminate administrative and bureaucratic barriers for businesses, strana.ru reported on 18 April. Aleksandr Konovalov, the director of the Institute of Political Estimations, interpreted Putin's speech as saying that, in order to "have strong and respected foreign policy, Russia should solve a lot of internal problems," strana.ru added. VY
...LESS SO BY OTHERS...
Union of Rightist Forces member and Unified Energy Systems (EES) head Anatolii Chubais called Putin's message "extremely liberal in its spirit, ideology, and goals set forth,'" strana.ru reported on 18 April. "But I am not sure that his call for a higher growth rate is realistic," Chubais said, adding, "And I am not sure that the administration understands what will be the cost of a revision of the growth rate or that the government is ready to pay this price." Meanwhile, Communist Party (KPRF) leader Gennadii Zyuganov told reporters in Moscow on 18 April that Putin delivered a "despondent and lukewarm" message addressed "more to NATO and the U.S. than to our own people." He said Putin listed only the problems faced by Russia, but did not offer any mechanisms for solving them. "If I delivered such a speech at a KPRF party plenum, I would be laughed off [the stage]," Zyuganov added. VY
...AS RUSSIAN PREMIER ORDERS CABINET TO FOLLOW PUTIN'S INSTRUCTIONS...
Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 19 April called on his cabinet to accelerate the country's economic growth, abnews.ru reported. Referring to Putin's 18 April State of the Nation address, in which the president criticized the government's projected economic growth rates as too low (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 18 April 2002), Kasyanov said Putin has "set a task for the government that it should perform starting from today." Kasyanov admitted that "some aspects of the problem cannot be solved in a month, but some can be executed already this year." In particular, Kasyanov said the government should target the inefficient use of state assets, superfluous state influence in the economic sphere, and the reduction of bureaucratic pressures on small businesses. VY
...AND MANY MUSCOVITES JUST DON'T CARE
A poll conducted by Ekho Moskvy radio on 18 April following Putin's State of the Nation address found that the vast majority of Muscovites were unaffected by Putin's message. Of the 2,445 listeners polled by telephone, 83 percent said that they did not consider Putin's annual address to the nation "an important event," while only 17 percent were of the opposite opinion. VY
PUTIN CALLS FOR NEW POWERS FOR HIS ENVOYS IN THE REGIONS...
In his analysis of Putin's address on 18 April, Mikhail Sokolov of RFE/RL's Moscow bureau suggested that Putin's comments raised the prospect that the presidential envoys to the seven federal districts will be given wider responsibilities, including over "cadre and control activities." In his speech, Putin declared that "it is time for us to shift some federal functions to the district level, moving them closer to the regions, above all monitoring and personnel issues, specifically in the areas of financial monitoring and choosing candidates for posts in the regional divisions of federal bodies." And Sokolov also noted that Putin declared the power-sharing agreements negotiated between the federal center and regions as fully "legitimate," but said that all agreements should be "confirmed in federal law." JAC
...BUT IGNORES PLIGHT OF THE RURAL COMMUNITIES, FARM SECTOR
Sokolov also discussed what Putin didn't talk about: For example, "he didn't speak about shameful government interference during the course of almost any election," which suggests that Putin is "satisfied with playing the role of authoritarian modernizer of Russia." Leader of the Agro-Industrial group in the Duma Nikolai Kharitonov complained that Putin "didn't find five seconds in his address to talk about the situation in the agro-industrial complex," rosbalt.ru reported on 18 April. JAC
RUSSIAN FINANCE MINISTER PROMISES TAX REFORM
Speaking in London at the fifth annual Russian Economic Forum devoted to Russia's economic reform, Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said that one of the Russian government's primary goals is to simplify the tax system to make the country more appealing to foreign investors, RIA-Novosti and international media reported on 18 April. He said that over the next two years, the cabinet intends to abolish sales taxes and reduce the value-added tax. In addition, he said that by 2004 the government hopes to approve a new Tax Code and introduce international accounting standards. VY
EU OFFICIALS EXPECT UN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION TO CENSURE RUSSIA'S ACTIONS IN CHECHNYA
Reuters reported on 18 April that EU officials expected the UN Commission on Human Rights to support a resolution condemning Russia's conduct in its war in Chechnya. On the agenda of the commission's annual meeting on 19 April was a resolution urging Moscow to take steps to stop reported human rights abuses by Russian troops in the republic, including disappearances and extrajudicial killings. The resolution acknowledges Russia's right to defend itself, but calls for the war in Chechnya to be conducted according to international humanitarian norms and asks Russia to set up an independent commission to investigate allegations of human rights abuses in the republic. MES
RUSSIAN DEFENSE OFFICIAL EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER U.S. MILITARY ROLE IN GEORGIA
Russian Deputy Defense Minister Aleksandr Kosovan issued a statement on 18 April warning of his concern over the planned U.S. military training operation in Georgia, the Caspian News Agency and AP reported. The Russian defense official said, "The presence of American divisions in Georgia should worry any Russian soldier," suggesting some differences between the opinion of the Russian military establishment and President Vladimir Putin on the matter. Kosovan also announced that Russia has altered it position on its bases in Georgia, saying that the Russian withdrawal will be completed within 10 years instead of the previous demand that it be given 14 years to withdraw. RG
GOVERNMENT RETAINS CONTROL OVER HYDROELECTRIC STATIONS
Even after reform of the energy sector and the split of Unified Energy Systems into two separate distribution and generating companies, the Russian government will retain control over electricity production at EES hydroelectric plants, "Gazeta" reported on 18 April. Despite the high costs of maintaining these stations, the state will keep them in its domain, as it is an issue of national security and stability, said Andrei Sharonov, a deputy minister at the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade. Russia's hydroelectric power stations, which were built to be the "giants of socialist industry" during the Soviet era, are among the largest in the world. VY
MOSCOW SUPPORTS SAUDI ARABIAN PEACE INITIATIVE
After meeting with his Saudi Arabian counterpart Prince Saud al-Faisal in Moscow on 18 April, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov told journalists that they discussed the situation in the Middle East and ways to end the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate, Russian news agencies reported the same day. Ivanov said the two sides focused on the peace initiative proposed by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah and "discovered that both [Russia and Saudi Arabia] have identical approaches as far as preserving the immutability of peace-process fundamentals [is concerned]." He also stressed that Moscow and Riyadh have similar attitudes toward the Iraq problem. Al-Faisal also met with President Putin the same day. VY
LESIN SAYS TWO NATIONAL TV CHANNELS TO REMAIN STATE-OWNED
Media Minister Mikhail Lesin told journalists in Moscow on 18 April that the government has no intention of privatizing the second national television channel, RTR, or the educational and entertainment channel Kultura, Russian news agencies reported. Also, the state will retain ownership of the government newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta." Lesin added that the issue of the sale of the state's 51 percent ownership of the first national channel, ORT, will be reviewed in the fall. VY
LEGAL-REFORM BILL GIVEN PRELIMINARY APPROVAL
Another element in the presidential administration's reform of the legal system cleared a legislative hurdle when State Duma deputies approved on 18 April the law on lawyers' activities and lawyers in its second reading, RIA-Novosti reported. The vote was 294 in favor with 108 against and two abstentions. The deputy chairman of the Committee on State Construction, Oleg Utkin, (Unity) told ITAR-TASS that more than 470 amendments were offered to the bill, of which 240 were recommended for acceptance. He added that the main innovation of the bill is that it provides the opportunity to form federal and regional chambers of lawyers, which will provide better legal help to poorer members of the population for free and will defend lawyers' interests in organs of state power. JAC
ARMENIAN GRAVES DESTROYED IN KRASNODAR CEMETERY...
Police in Krasnodar have detained six young people between the ages of 15 and 18 for defiling Armenian graves in a city cemetery, RFE/RL's Russian Service reported on 18 April. According to the service, some 30 graves, the bulk of which were Armenian, were destroyed during a rampage by a group of youths on 16 April. Police officials told REN-TV that the youths were dissatisfied with the most recent performance of a local soccer team, Kuban. One of the team's strikers, who is an ethnic Armenian, failed to score a winning goal in the game. However, Vladimir Zorin, minister in charge of nationalities policy, linked the attack to the activation of a local "skinhead" movement. Meanwhile, the Union of Armenians of Russia issued a statement protesting the activities of Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev and his supporters, ITAR-TASS reported. Tkachev recently launched an effort to reduce the number of illegal immigrants in his region, which has prompted criticism from human-rights activists and political commentators (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2002). JAC
...AS ROSTOV COSSACKS SAY THEY DON'T WANT KRASNODAR'S MESKHETIAN TURKS
Meanwhile, Don Cossacks have declared that they will set up posts at local railway stations and at Rostov Oblast's border with Krasnodar to turn back any Meskhetian Turks sent there from Krasnodar Krai, izvestiya.ru reported on 18 April. The Cossacks had heard that Krasnodar authorities had given Meskhetian Turks train tickets to Rostov-na-Donu. Earlier, Krasnodar authorities had escorted some families of Kurds to Rostov-na-Donu (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 April 2002). According to Aleksandr Osipov of the Moscow-based Memorial human rights group (see "RFE/RL (Un)Civil Societies," 10 April 2002), there are about 15,000-18,000 Meskhetian Turks in Krasnodar. JAC
PREPARATIONS UNDERWAY FOR REFERENDUM ON MERGER OF SIBERIAN REGIONS...
A citizens' initiative group has been formed in Krasnoyarsk Krai to conduct a referendum on merging the krai with the Taimyr and Even autonomous okrugs, Interfax reported on 18 April, citing the krai's Election Commission. According to the agency, the question on the referendum will be, "Do you agree with the idea of forming a new federation subject by joining Krasnoyarsk Krai, Evenkiya, and Taimyr?" By law, the question must be approved by the krai's legislature within 20 days. However, Evenk Governor Boris Zolatarev continues to oppose the idea. He told "Krasnoyarskii rabochii" that he visited the presidential administration and did not receive confirmation there that President Putin had raised the idea of forming a new, larger region during a meeting with Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed and Taimyr Autonomous Okrug Governor Aleksandr Khloponin, as Lebed has alleged, nns.ru reported on 15 April (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 29 March and 2 April 2002). JAC
...AS IRKUTSK LEGISLATORS STUDY POSSIBLE EXPANSION OF THEIR REGION
Meanwhile, legislators in Irkutsk Oblast decided on 17 April to form a working group on the question of joining the oblast with neighboring Ust-Orda Buryat Autonomous Okrug, "Izvestiya" reported on 18 April. According the daily, its unidentified sources claim that the first candidate for a "merger" in the Russian Federation will not be Yaroslavl-Kostroma or Krasnoyarsk-Taimyr-Evenk, but Irkutsk Oblast with Ust-Orda Buryat or Perm Oblast with Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug, because the regional political elites in the latter regions are not opposed to such a consolidation. Sergei Samoilov, a presidential adviser and former head of the Kremlin's chief territorial administration, told the daily that governors in Perm and Irkutsk have been ready for a while and periodically ask Moscow, "When can we start [this process of unification]?" JAC
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT DEFENDS CLOSURE OF A1+ INDEPENDENT TELEVISION STATION
Robert Kocharian on 18 April defended the closure of the popular A1+ independent television station, RFE/RL'S Yerevan bureau reported. A presidential spokesman proposed an end to the recent tension over the issue by recommending that the A1+ channel enter a bid for another frequency, adding that the station "has real chances of returning to the air." The spokesman also defended the closure, arguing that "the commission acted within the boundaries of the law." The A1+ station was forced from the air on 2 April after losing its broadcast frequency in a controversial tender overseen by the presidentially appointed National Commission on Television and Radio, and has legally challenged the decision (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3, 16, and 17 April 2002). RG
ARMENIAN PREMIER MEETS WITH VISITING SLOVENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER
Armenian Prime Minister Andranik Markarian met with Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel on 18 April, Armenpress reported. The officials discussed plans to develop more extensive bilateral trade and investment and Rupel agreed to host a business forum to encourage greater investment in Armenia. RG
ARMENIAN PARLIAMENTARY CHAIRMAN DISCUSSES KRASNODAR ARMENIANS WITH RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR
In the wake of the recent attention to the security of the ethnic Armenian community living in Russia's Krasnodar Oblast, Armenian Parliamentary Chairman Armen Khachatrian met with Russian Ambassador to Armenia Anatoli Dryukov on 18 April, Noyan Tapan reported, citing Groong. Dryukov agreed to assist an Armenian parliamentary delegation that is to be dispatched to Krasnodar on a fact-finding mission next week. Recent reports charge regional Russian authorities with deporting significant numbers of ethnic groups, including some of the region's 800,000 Armenians. Other reports have detailed incidents of Armenian gravestones and historical monuments being desecrated or damaged. RG
ARMENIAN-EU ECONOMIC BODY MEETS IN YEREVAN
The Armenia-European Union Subcommittee on Economic Cooperation convened its second meeting in Yerevan on 18 April, according to the AKRA news agency. The subcommittee is chaired by Armenian Deputy Trade Minister Tigran Davitian and EU Ambassador Torben Holtse, the head of the EU mission to Armenian and Georgia. The officials discussed foreign investment and trade and reviewed the implementation of several measures agreed upon at the body's first meeting on 18 July 2000. The EU official conveyed Brussels' frustration with the Armenian government's failure to combat the increasingly common practice of demanding advance tax payments from foreign firms operating in Armenia. The EU remains Armenia's largest trade partner and accounts for roughly one-third of all foreign investment in the country. RG
TRIAL OF ISLAMIC GROUP IN AZERBAIJAN CONTINUES
The trial of six defendants charged with belonging to the illegal Islamic Hizb ut-Tahrir organization continued in Baku on 18 April, ANS reported. Prosecutors formally requested prison sentences of between seven and eight years for the men. The defendants were arrested in July 2001 after an investigation uncovered a plot to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Baku. The trial first opened in Azerbaijan's Court for Serious Crimes on 20 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January and 21 February 2002). RG
ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO BAKU PLEDGES SUPPORT FOR AZERBAIJAN'S TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY
Israeli Ambassador to Azerbaijan Eitan Naeh conveyed the Israeli government's pledge to "to stand for territorial integrity and the indivisibility of Azerbaijan" on 18 April, according to the "Bakinskii Rabochii" newspaper, as cited by Groong. Naeh has served as Israel's ambassador in Baku since August 2001 and played a key role in developing bilateral energy and security cooperation. RG
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEE DISCUSSES ABKHAZ SITUATION
A special meeting of the Georgian Parliament's Committee on Defense and Security convened on 18 April to hear reports from several ministers on the situation in Abkhazia, Prime News Agency and civil.ge reported. Defense Minister David Tevzadze warned that measures should be taken to counter the recent threats by Abkhaz forces to deploy artillery and troops in the Kodori Gorge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2002). Tevzadze used his report to justify his call for substantial increases in state funding for his ministry, complaining that a mere one-third of promised funding for defense has been disbursed. State Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania also warned of indications that Abkhaz forces are mobilizing volunteers from North Caucasian republics and confirmed reports that a special Georgian counterinsurgency force was dispatched to the western Georgian city of Zugdidi along the border with Abkhazia. RG
GEORGIAN SPEAKER: GEORGIA WAS WRONG TO DENY PRESENCE OF CHECHEN REBELS
In a published interview on 18 April, Georgian Parliamentary Speaker Nino Burdjanadze stated that it was a mistake for Georgia to deny the presence of Chechen rebels in its country, the Caspian News Agency reported. The speaker added that "an objective picture" of the presence of Chechen rebels should have been provided and she promised that "I stand for being totally open about the existing problems." The Georgian government had long denied Russian claims that Chechen rebels were using Georgian territory as an operational refuge for cross-border attacks on Russian troops in Chechnya. Burdjanadze also criticized President Eduard Shevardnadze's positive remark about Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelaev as "a big mistake." RG
GEORGIA MAY LOSE MEMBERSHIP IN WORLD TOURISM ORGANIZATION
According to an 18 April statement by Vazha Shubladze, the head of the state department of tourism, Georgia may be expelled from the World Tourism Organization for its failure to pay more than $136,000 in outstanding membership dues, the "Georgian Times" reported. The Georgian government was issued a deadline of 1 May to pay its debt or face expulsion from the international body. The government had hoped to utilize its membership in the body to promote tourism along its renowned Black Sea coast. RG
KAZAKH MINISTER ORDERS POLICE TO STOP INTIMIDATING MEDIA
Kazakh Internal Affairs Minister Kairbek Suleimenov reproached officers of the ministry's directorate in Almaty for attempting to intimidate the independent media by issuing a false statement that criminal charges are being brought against Aleksandr Shukhov, chief editor of the newspaper "Karavan," Kazakh Commercial TV reported on 18 April. At a press conference in Astana, Suleimenov denied that Shukhov has been accused or even interrogated, and said that information to this effect was maliciously disseminated by Almaty police, who acted without approval from their superiors in order to damage Shukhov's reputation. Suleimenov promised to "sort this out" with the directorate in Almaty, which refused to comment, Kazakh Commercial TV reported. It was the second-straight day that Suleimenov has slammed the police for abusing their office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2002). Both "Karavan" and Kazakh Commercial TV are owned by Alma-Media and have been under government pressure since last November, when both outlets were temporarily suspended. AA
COUNTERTERRORISM EXERCISES MOVE SOUTH
The second phase of the "South -- Antiterror 2002" exercises of the CIS Collective Rapid Reaction Forces ended in Almaty on 18 April, Khabar TV reported. The first phase that began in Bishkek on 15 April was devoted to command-and-staff exercises. In Almaty, special forces working in combination with national security services and border guards practiced combating terrorist groups, dealing with hostage situations, evacuating wounded, and operating in mined facilities, Khabar TV reported. During the final phase of the exercises on Tajikistan's southern border, 5,000 Tajik and Russian units will practice fighting terrorist incursions from Afghanistan using a variety of weapons against the targets, including warplanes, helicopter gunships, missile systems, and artillery, RFE/RL reported on 18 April. AA
KAZAKH OPPOSITIONIST DENIED PRETRIAL RELEASE
The lawyer for Mukhtar Abliyazov, Kazakhstan's former energy minister who was arrested on 27 March, told a press conference on 18 April that the Almaty District Court has rejected her appeal to release her client from custody before trial, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. The appeal was filed on 1 April, she said, and included a request, also denied, that members of the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) movement be permitted to visit him and help him prepare his defense. Abliyazov, one of the DVK's founders, is accused of abuse of power and embezzlement while working in the energy sector, charges he says are politically motivated (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 4 April 2002). AA
KAZAKH DEPUTIES WORRY THAT REGISTRATION OF RUSSIAN PARTY SETS PRECEDENT
Following the recent registration of the Russian Party of Kazakhstan (RPK) as a legal entity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2002), a group of deputies from the Mazhlis led by Ramazan Sarpekov started pushing for changes in the law on political organizations to make it harder to launch new parties, ferghana.ru reported on 19 April. The current law requires the signature of 3,000 citizens for a party to be registered. Sarpekov argued for a dramatically larger figure to reflect the fact that any serious party should be representing at least 10 percent of the electorate. Otherwise, he said, "pseudo-parties" can arise with no broad-based support and having a divisive and provocative agenda, ferghana.ru reported. Many deputies fear that the RPK could open the door for German, Uzbek, or Uighur parties to be registered in the future, the website said. AA
ANTIGOVERNMENT RALLY ENDS IN KYRGYZSTAN
On 18 April, the final day of the People's Congress that brought some 500 opposition activists together in Bishkek to discuss last month's clashes in southern Kyrgyzstan's Aksy Raion, the organizing committee issued a list of political demands adopted by the delegates, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The first of 12 points called for the resignations of President Askar Akaev, the prime minister, interior minister, the prosecutor-general, and others. Further demands included an end to the trials against former Vice President Feliks Kulov and Deputy Azimbek Beknazarov, early elections, and a referendum of border issues. It was Beknazarov's criticism of Akaev for negotiating border treaties with China without consulting the parliament or people that drew nationwide attention to him last year. No government representatives attended the congress, nor has there been any official reaction to the demands. AA
U.S. WARPLANES ARRIVE IN KYRGYZSTAN
Six U.S. fighter planes landed at Bishkek's Manas airport where some 1,800 servicemen of the international coalition are now stationed, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 18 April. The F-18 Hornets will be taking part in operations in Afghanistan, according to a U.S. military spokesman at Manas. Unlike the Uzbek air base at Khanabad, which Tashkent officially maintains may be used by foreign troops only for search-and-rescue and humanitarian flights, the Kyrgyz have allowed their base to be employed for combat missions. Refueling aircraft and six French Mirage 2000 jets are already based at Manas and are active in the counterterrorism campaign, RFE/RL reported on 18 April. AA
NEW DEFECTOR CRITICIZES TURKMEN PRESIDENT
In a statement published on gundogar.org on 17 April, Turkmenistan's former Prime Minister Aleksandr Dodonov announced that he is joining the opposition National Democratic Movement of Turkmenistan group based in Moscow. The 55-year-old Dodonov, who also served as water resources minister from 1996 to 1998, accused President Saparmurat Niyazov of "usurping all branches of power," and said Niyazov's "dilettantist" interventions in economic matters, particularly problems of agriculture and irrigation, threaten to lead the country to ruin. He added that the government's "fantastic" statistics on record-breaking plantings and harvests were myths. Dodonov, who has lived in Moscow since 1998, is the latest of several prominent Turkmen officials to join the opposition-in-exile movement since the defection of ex-Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov last November. AA
BELARUS SAYS OSCE UNLAWFULLY APPOINTED SPECIAL ENVOY
Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Pavel Latushka said on 18 April that OSCE Chairman in Office Antonio Martins da Cruz appointed German diplomat Eberhard Heyken as his special representatives for Belarus in contravention of the 1992 Helsinki Summit Document of the Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Belarusian and international agencies reported. "[The appointment] also ignored the circumstance that a personal representative, including a special envoy, may be appointed only in the event of a crisis or conflict. There is obviously no such situation in Belarus," Belarus's representative to the OSCE Viktar Haysyonak said at a session of the OSCE Permanent Council in Vienna on 16 April. Heyken, who was formerly proposed to head the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk, got his new appointment after the Belarusian authorities forced the group's acting head, Michel Rivollier, to leave Belarus (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2002). JM
CZECH PREMIER SUPPORTS BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION, REFUSES TO MEET LUKASHENKA
Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman visited Minsk on 18 April in a delegation of the Socialist International, following an invitation from the opposition Belarusian Social Democratic Party led by Mikola Statkevich, Belarusian and international media reported. Zeman was the first prime minister of a country west of Belarus to visit Minsk in many years. "We are here to express solidarity with the political opposition parties that do not enjoy equal circumstances in the political battle," Zeman announced during a meeting with opposition figures in Minsk. "Belarus is like a political museum," Zeman added, stressing that Belarus's international isolation is taking a toll on its economy and infrastructure. Zeman told Czech Television that he turned down "six times" the invitation from the Belarusian presidential administration to hold a vis-a-vis meeting with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Zeman said he insisted that a meeting take place with the participation of the whole delegation and Statkevich. "Yes, I was the issue," Statkevich told Czech Television. "It would not be pleasant for Lukashenka to have to meet me officially. He does not communicate with the opposition." JM
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT VISITS INTERIOR MINISTRY UNIT
Belarusian President Lukashenka visited the Third Detached Operational Brigade of the Interior Ministry Troops on 18 April, Belarusian media reported. Lukashenka extolled the brigade and its commander, Lieutenant Colonel Dzmitry Paulyuchenka, for their contribution to maintaining social and political stability in the country, and singled out the brigade's rapid reaction force (SOBR) for special praise. In June 2001, two Belarusian investigators, who formerly fled to the U.S., alleged that SOBR commanded by Paulyuchenka performed a role of the regime's death squad and killed 30 people in total, including opposition activists Viktar Hanchar and Yury Zakharanka in 1999 and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski in 2000 (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 June 2001). JM
UKRAINIAN SUPREME COURT ANNULS CRIMEAN SPEAKER'S ELECTION OUSTER...
The Supreme Court on 19 April ruled that Crimean speaker Leonid Hrach's disqualification from the election to the Crimean Supreme Council (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 19 March 2002) was illegal, UNIAN reported. The ruling paves the way for Hrach's registration as a deputy of the Crimean legislature. Despite the previous disqualification by a lower court, Hrach's name remained on the ballot in his constituency in Simferopol, where on 31 March he obtained more votes than other candidates. Hrach was also elected to the Verkhovna Rada in Kyiv on the Communist Party list. JM
...REINSTATES WINNER IN CONTROVERSIAL CONSTITUENCY
The previous day, the Supreme Court ruled that Roman Zvarych from Our Ukraine is the winner of the parliamentary vote in constituency No. 90 (Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast), as it was reported by the constituency Election Commission following the vote count. With this ruling, the court overrules the subsequent decision of the Central Election Commission (CEC) invalidating the vote in this constituency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2002). Ivano-Frankivsk Governor Mykola Shkriblyak, who ran in the same constituency, was assassinated shortly before election day, after which several other candidates withdrew from the election. The CEC invalidated the vote following a complaint that the withdrawal of the candidates was not reflected on the ballots. JM
UKRAINE CHARGES BANK ROBBERS
Ukrainian investigators have accused three robbers of a German bank -- who seized hostages and sped through Germany, Poland, and Ukraine in a 1,600-kilometer car chase (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 April 2002) -- with hostage taking, smuggling, illegal border crossing, and illegal arms possession, Reuters reported on 19 April. The charges may entail a term of up to 15 years in a Ukrainian prison for each of the robbers. Oleksander Skrypnyk, the spokesman of the Security Service of Ukraine, said the robbers can also be extradited to Germany to face further charges. "We want to finish the investigation as soon as possible in order to be able to give our German colleagues full results of the probe," Skrypnyk noted. JM
ESTONIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH DISPUTE WILL CONTINUE
Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Aleksii II welcomed on 18 April the official registration of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate (EOCMP) in Tallinn the previous day as the first step in solving the church's problems, BNS reported. He added that the next step will be to settle property questions. Jaan J. Leppik, a parliament deputy from the opposition Pro Patria Union, asserted that the registration was carried out by making cosmetic changes in statutes previously rejected by the authorities. The provision about the legal succession of the church -- the removal of which the previous government had set as a precondition -- had simply been transferred from Article 1 to Article 2. Leppik said EOCMP will start to demand the return of all the properties belonging to the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church. Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Andres Tarand of the Moderates stated that the registration will not bring positive developments in Estonian-Russian relations. SG
LATVIA FORMS CORRUPTION PREVENTION BUREAU
In an unanimous vote on 18 April, the parliament passed a bill establishing the Corruption Prevention Bureau, LETA reported. The law will go into effect on 1 May, but the bureau is expected to begin operations only in July after its head is appointed. The law stipulates that the bureau will have the authority to prepare legislation on corruption prevention and coordination, control its implementation, probe the income declarations of officials, and call officials to administrative culpability for violations of the Anticorruption Law. The bureau will be under the subordination of the Cabinet of Ministers and not the Ministry of Justice, as had been earlier planned. The bureau's head will serve a five-year term and can be removed by a vote of the parliament at the recommendation of the government. SG
LITHUANIAN-RUSSIAN BUSINESS FORUM HELD IN VILNIUS
Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas told the Lithuanian-Russian business conference Partnership 2002 on 18 April that the two countries have not exhausted all possibilities to expand bilateral trade and economic ties, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. He specifically mentioned that the Russian State Duma has not yet ratified the agreement on the protection of investments and the avoidance of double taxation that Lithuania's parliament ratified in 1997. Brazauskas expressed regret that the talks on the so-called "2K" project to unify railway tariffs on traffic to Kaliningrad and Klaipeda have bogged down, and said he is surprised that Russian companies have not made any investments in the port of Klaipeda, which could be used for increasing their transit trade. He also mentioned that while Russia was in fourth place among Lithuania's export destinations last year, it was in second place in the first two months of this year. Russia continues to be the greatest source of Lithuanian imports. Aleksandr Baburin, the head of the Food Resource Department of the Moscow government, noted that Lithuanian products account for some 10 percent of total imports to Moscow. SG
ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER DEEMS WARSAW PEACE TALKS PROPOSAL PREMATURE
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres visited Warsaw on 18 April, where he took part in a conference linked to the planned Museum of the History of Polish Jews, Polish media reported. Peres welcomed an offer by Poland to act as host for a Middle East peace conference, but said it is too early to make plans for such talks. "Warsaw is an excellent place, because it is acceptable by both sides, but first we must bring about an armistice," Polish Television quoted Peres as saying. The same day, a group of 41 lawmakers from Self-Defense, the Peasant Party, and the League of Polish Families handed over to the Israeli Embassy in Warsaw a protest against the "barbaric war on the Palestinian land," PAP reported. JM
AUDIT BODY CRITICIZES QUALITY OF DRINKING WATER IN POLAND
The Supreme Audit Chamber (NIK) has found that two-thirds of drinking water in the country does not meet quality norms set by the Environment Ministry, PAP reported on 18 April, referring to an NIK report. NIK checked the quality of drinking water in 20 Polish cities in 1999-2000. Meanwhile, Environment Ministry spokesman Przemyslaw Szustakiewicz has announced that the government is preparing a water-quality improvement program, which is an EU requirement that Poland committed itself to meet by 2015. JM
NEWSPAPER ACCUSES CZECH COMMUNISTS OF TIES TO ARMS SMUGGLERS
The daily newspaper "Mlada fronta Dnes" published an article on 18 April accusing the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia (KSCM) of collaborating with arms smugglers to acquire loans for the party, CTK reported the same day. According to "Mlada fronta Dnes," Vojtech Filip, the chairman of the KSCM deputies' group in parliament, worked in the early 1990s for a Ceske Budejovice-based company called KAMO. Aleksandr Kalyandra, the company's founder and a Russian national, had been sentenced to 18 months in prison for illegally exporting Tatra army trucks, which eventually ended up in China and North Korea, the daily reported. Filip was also paid a 10,000-15,000 crown ($285-$428) per month commission on the deal and KAMO gave KSCM two loans of 2 million crowns ($57,142) each in 1993 and 1994. BW
CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER REQUESTS DELAYING DEBATE ON MILITARY REFORM
Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik has requested that the Czech government delay debate on reforming the military until after June's general elections, Czech media reported on 18 April. The government is considering a plan, drafted by Tvrdik, to create a professional army by 2006. The cabinet is scheduled to discuss the issue on 29 April at a meeting that President Vaclav Havel is planning to attend. BW
CZECHS, U.S. IN TALKS TO OUTFIT FIGHTER JETS
The Czech Defense Ministry has begun negotiating with the United States to acquire supplies for fighter jets the government plans to purchase, CTK reported on 17 April. The government wants to purchase 24 Jas-39 Griffin fighter jets from the British-Swedish consortium BAE Systems/SAAB, but is awaiting parliamentary approval. The cabinet is nevertheless seeking to buy 7.2 billion crowns ($205.7 million) worth of combat equipment for the planes, including laser-guided bombs and medium-range guided missiles, from the U.S. The U.S. company Rayethon is a leading candidate to win the contract, "Pravo" reported the same day. "Pravo" quoted National Armament Office Director Jindrich Ploch as saying that the 7.2 billion crowns are budgeted into the 62 billion crown ($1.77 billion) deal to acquire the jets. BW
CZECH SENATE SPEAKER SAYS HUNGARIANS NOT LAUNCHING CAMPAIGN AGAINST BENES DECREES
Senate Chairman Petr Pithart said Hungarian politicians are not launching an all-out campaign against the Benes Decrees, CTK reported on 17 April. "The idea that everyone in Hungary is speaking about the Benes Decrees is misleading," Pithart said during a private visit to Budapest. Pithart said he sought to learn the views of politicians and intellectuals in Hungary on the Benes Decrees, under which 2.5 million Germans and tens of thousands of ethnic Hungarians were expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War II. "It was said that the problem will not became a subject of either bilateral or multilateral talks" during the Czech Republic's admission to the EU, Pithart said, summing up the attitude of Hungarian politicians. Pithart met Hungarian President Ferenc Madl on 17 April. He quoted the president as saying that the wheel of history cannot be turned back by legal means, although taking moral stands can smooth old injustices. BW
BILL REGULATING OVERSEAS VOTING PASSES CZECH SENATE
The Senate passed legislation allowing some Czech citizens living abroad to vote in July's parliamentary elections, Czech media reported on 17 April. Under the amendment, Czechs living in time zones more than four hours behind the Czech Republic will be able to cast their vote a day before the general election, scheduled for 14-15 June. Previously, time-zone differences had delayed the announcement of election results. The amendment means that election results can be released at 2:00 p.m. Prague time on 15 June. BW
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RAPPORTEUR VOICES EU'S CONCERN OVER HIGH UNEMPLOYMENT IN SLOVAKIA
European Parliament member Jan Marinus Wiersma said the EU is concerned over the high unemployment in Slovakia as well as over the large differences in social and economic development among the country's regions, the daily "Sme" reported on 19 April. Wiersma is the European Parliament's rapporteur on Slovakia. After talks with Slovak President Rudolf Schuster Wiersma noted that Slovakia is successful in the negotiation process, but "there are some things that need to be finished and then there is the question of the elections." Parliamentary elections are scheduled for September, and the polls predict a victory for the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), which disqualified the country from EU accession in the past. In related news, Slovakia's main negotiator with the EU, Jan Figel, announced that the country is about to close the chapter on transport and to open the 30th and last chapter on institutions in the accession negotiations. AS
HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER CRITICIZED AGAIN BY SLOVAK MINISTER
Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan called the rhetoric of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban "very dangerous," according to the daily "Pravda" of 19 April. Kukan was referring to Orban's statement that the Hungarian Status Law is the most important instrument to reunite the Hungarian nation. "In the context of the current integration process in Europe, it is to me incomprehensible, irresponsible, and not European," Kukan said. He said he understands that some things are intentionally made bigger in a pre-election campaign, but that responsible politicians should remain high-principled before elections as well. AS
SCHUSTER ASKS POLITICAL PARTIES FOR 'CORRECT' COMPETITION, WARNS JOURNALISTS
Slovak President Schuster called on all parties to conduct a "correct" pre-election campaign, TASR reported on 18 April. According to Schuster, the coming elections will be the most important since the Velvet Revolution of 1989. He said the more tough and less ethical the campaign is, the worse the conditions for NATO and EU membership Slovakia will become. He criticized Slovak journalists for being too focused on HZDS leader Vladimir Meciar. "It would be good if you would leave him alone," he said, though also noting that Meciar still holds influence in Slovakia and that anyone "who underestimates this, makes a big mistake." AS
END OF ELECTION CAMPAIGN GETS EVEN DIRTIER IN HUNGARY...
Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs on 18 April told a press conference in Budapest that Hungarian state television (MTV) plans to air a 50-minute documentary on Socialist prime-ministerial candidate Peter Medgyessy on 19 April in the evening, just a couple of hours before the campaign silence. Kovacs described the film as a "compilation of slanders," and wrote a letter to MTV President Karoly Mendreczky, urging him to prevent FIDESZ from using the television station for campaign purposes, Hungarian media report. Kovacs said if the television decides to air the film, Medgyessy should be given an opportunity to react to the "unreal and astounding accusations." In other news, Free Democrat Chairman Gabor Kuncze accused Prime Minister Viktor Orban of being "the driving force behind the river of lies that has inundated Hungary and that spares neither streets, schools, nor work places." Kuncze quoted Orban as saying during his tour of the country that the Free Democrats would legalize the use of hard drugs if they entered government. "No such shockingly crazy sentence has ever been uttered in Hungary," Kuncze concluded. MSZ
...WITH SOCIALISTS, FIDESZ PREDICTING ELECTORAL WRONGDOINGS
Kovacs also told reporters on 18 April that if the final election results prove unfavorable for FIDESZ, the party will try to create the impression of electoral wrongdoing on the part of the Socialists. Kovacs said he had received information that a major Hungarian state company had printed large quantities of campaign leaflets abroad, which appear to be from the Socialists. The leaflets are meant to be distributed by FIDESZ before the election so that the opposition can be accused of violating the campaign-silence rule, Kovacs charged. Sports Minister Tamas Deutsch said the leaflets will be distributed by Socialists on 20 April, and described Kovacs's remarks as part of a well-planned cover-up designed to blame FIDESZ. In a related development, FIDESZ Chairman Zoltan Pokorni announced on 18 April that his party established a "democracy center" to document reports on election abuses, Hungarian dailies report. The center is in addition to the telephone hotline, or "democracy line" that FIDESZ set up a day earlier. Reacting to the news, Kovacs said if voters detect any irregularities at polling stations, they should consult election officials, not FIDESZ's telephone hotline. MSZ
CSURKA SHARES HATE MAIL WITH THE PRESS
Hungarian Justice and Life Party Chairman Istvan Csurka on 18 April presented a letter to the media in which an unidentified group calling itself the "Left-Wing Action Front" threatens to shoot dead Premier Orban, Csurka, and leading figures of the governing FIDESZ-Democratic Forum alliance, Hungarian media report. The letter says the threat would be carried out if these politicians did not admit to losing the elections at a press briefing by midnight, 18 April. The National Security Authority said it is unaware of any "Left-Wing Action Front," but has nevertheless opened an inquiry.
DEL PONTE TELLS BELGRADE TO TAKE ACTION...
Following talks with Yugoslav Justice Minister Savo Markovic, Carla Del Ponte, who is The Hague-based tribunal's chief prosecutor, said in Belgrade on 18 April that, "We are now expecting the first results of the application of the law [on cooperation with the tribunal] and of the decision that there are now three days for voluntary surrender" by indicted war criminals, AP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2002). Elsewhere, former army Chief of Staff General Dragoljub Ojdanic told "Vesti" of 19 April that he is preparing to turn himself in within the three-day limit set by the Yugoslav government. As a result of financial pressure from the U.S., the Belgrade authorities recently took action on promises they have been making since October 2000 to pass such legislation because of financial pressure from the U.S. On 18 April, the daily "Danas" called on Serbs to follow the Dutch example and face up to the facts of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre rather than make heroes out of Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic. PM
...AND THE U.S. HAS THE SAME MESSAGE FOR BANJA LUKA
In the capital of the Republika Srpska on 18 April, Pierre-Richard Prosper, U.S. ambassador at large for war-crimes issues, said the Bosnian Serbs will continue to suffer politically and economically as long as Karadzic and Mladic remain free, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He made the remarks after meeting with President Mirko Sarovic and Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic. PM
PETRITSCH'S DEADLINE PASSES IN BOSNIA...
Neither the Muslim-Croat Federation nor the Republika Srpska has approved legislation designed to make the three peoples politically equal in time for the 18 April deadline set by Wolfgang Petritsch, the outgoing high representative of the international community, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. In Sarajevo, the federal House of the Peoples approved the legislation, but the House of Representatives did not produce the necessary two-thirds majority to enact the bill. This was because deputies from three Croatian nationalist parties walked out and deputies from the Muslim Party of Democratic Action abstained. "Dnevni avaz" referred to "a political drama" in the legislature. In Banja Luka, the parliament adjourned until the next day without taking a vote. But Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service quoted Ivanic as saying that his representatives have assured Petritsch that Banja Luka is in compliance with his demands. Meanwhile, in Sarajevo, foreign ambassadors representing the international community met to consider their response, Hina reported. PM
WHILE U.S. CALLS ON MACEDONIA TO PASS PROMISED LEGISLATION
Speaking in Skopje on 18 April, Ambassador James Holmes, the U.S. State Department's special representative for the Balkans, called on the parliament to pass legislation recommended by the EU aimed at improving minority rights, AP reported. The legislation centers on language use, access to the civil service, and related issues. Holmes stressed that "the task is urgent. We need to find some way to regain the momentum to get this legislation passed" by the 15 May deadline. He warned that the reform process is in danger of losing momentum in the run-up to the parliamentary elections expected in the fall. PM
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT, GOVERNMENT ANALYZE MEASURES FOR CHILD PROTECTION
Ion Iliescu presided over an 18 April government meeting that dealt in part with the Romanian child-care system, Romanian media reported. The government analyzed a report submitted by a group of independent researchers and experts on the reorganization of the child-care and adoption system. The government is to implement the recommendations of the report by the end of the year by elaborating eight draft laws. Iliescu is to present these measures at the UN's special meeting on children's rights next month (see "End Note"). ZsM
...AS ROBERTSON SAYS BOSNIA IS NOT READY FOR NATO PROGRAM
NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said in Sarajevo on 18 April that Bosnia has not yet met the necessary preconditions to join the Partnership for Peace program, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. He stressed that Bosnia has a long way to go in meeting requirements for establishing a unified chain of command and civilian control over the armed forces. Bosnia must also cut military spending and reduce the size of its military. He noted that "it is a scandalous waste of money that Bosnia is devoting 10 percent of the total national income to defense," which is three times the rate of the U.S., dpa reported. Robertson pledged NATO's help to assist Bosnia in reaching its goals. He added that any reduction in the size of SFOR will not mean "a reduction in effectiveness of the fighting forces who are here to maintain stability and safety for the people." He did not elaborate. PM
EU REPORT WARNS OF SHAKY BALKANS
A report by the EU Commission says that peace is by no means assured in the Balkans, Vienna's "Die Presse" reported on 19 April. The study notes that the U.S. is likely to reduce its role in the region and expects the EU to take on more responsibility (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 15 February 2002). The report adds that, though democratic governments exist throughout the region, much work needs to be done to bring their legal systems, administrations, and respect for media independence up to European standards. Crime and corruption continue to be rampant and "the risk of a comeback by nationalist forces cannot be excluded." The report notes that economic development is weak outside of Slovenia and Hungary and that the EU has not been as effective in this sphere as it would have wished. The study nonetheless takes credit for the EU for Petritsch's work in Bosnia, the 2001 Ohrid agreement in Macedonia, and for the recent agreement between Belgrade and Podgorica. PM
...AS MOLDOVAN JUSTICE MINISTER SPEAKS OF OPPOSITION'S 'DICTATORSHIP'
Meeting with Council of Europe Deputy Secretary-General Hans Christian Krueger, Moldovan Justice Minister Ion Morei said there is a "dictatorship" in Moldova -- the parliamentary opposition, Flux reported. He referred to the "dictatorship" installed by the parliamentary opposition with the protest actions started last January, which he claimed infringe on national and international legislation. Morei also added that the Moldovan government will implement the European Court of Human Right's decision on registering the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church in Moldova. ZsM
PRO-BELGRADE COALITION TAKES LEAD IN MONTENEGRIN POLL
In a survey of 991 people taken in the second week of April for the NGO Center for Democracy and Human Rights (CEDEM), the Podgorica-based DAMAR agency found that 35.3 percent of respondents favor the Together for Yugoslavia coalition, "Vijesti" reported on 19 April. "For the first time in years," President Milo Djukanovic's Victory for Montenegro was in second place, with 27.2 percent. The polling agency suggested that many pro-independence voters told pollsters they now favor the Liberal Alliance (8.3 percent), have no opinion (15.2 percent), or are undecided (14.5 percent). The recent agreement with Belgrade has the approval of 61 percent of respondents, while 23 percent are against it, and 15 percent undecided. PM
MONTENEGRIN PRIME MINISTER RESIGNS
In a widely expected move, Filip Vujanovic submitted his resignation on 19 April following his failure to put together a new coalition government, AP reported from Podgorica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 April 2002). PM
EXPLOSION ROCKS SERBIAN RESTAURANT IN PRESEVO
Unknown persons threw a grenade on 19 April into what AP called the "last Serb-owned restaurant" in Presevo, badly damaging the establishment. Unnamed authorities called the incident a "terrorist act." Police are investigating. Ethnic Albanians in the Presevo region recently agreed to take part in the Serbian census in a move seen as improving the local political climate and dealing a blow to Serbian nationalists and Albanian extremists alike. PM
COUNCIL OF EUROPE SECRETARY-GENERAL OPTIMISTIC ON POLITICAL SITUATION IN MOLDOVA...
In an 18 April press release, Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer said his 17 April talks in Strasbourg with the three Moldovan parliamentary group leaders was a start in diffusing the ongoing political crisis in Chisinau, Flux reported. He said the political dialogue will transfer the debates from the street to the bargaining table. Schwimmer added that the three political leaders reached a consensus on the fact that "Moldova's future is in Europe." ZsM
CROATIAN EX-PROSECUTOR SAYS CRIMINALS FORCED HIM OUT
Radovan Ortynski said in Zagreb that his recent resignation under pressure was the result of a campaign orchestrated by organized crime, "Jutarnji list" reported on 18 April. He added that his suspicions have been confirmed by unnamed underworld figures (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 2002). PM
EU DEMANDS DISSOLUTION OF MACEDONIAN SPECIAL POLICE UNIT...
During talks between the EU and Macedonia held in Luxembourg over the implementation of the Stabilization and Association Agreement, the EU urged the Macedonian government to disband the Lions, a special police unit, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported on 18 April, citing "Fakti." The Lions have been involved in a number of dubious incidents, allegedly including the killing of 10 Albanians in the village of Ljuboten in 2001. Eight of the bodies were recently exhumed by experts from The Hague-based war crimes tribunal, including that of a six-year-old boy, dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2002). Interior Minister Ljube Boskovski, however, strictly opposes the dissolution of the Lions. "[The] Lions will not be demobilized. They can only be [incorporated] into other security units. Everybody who wants to get rid of the Lions risks creating security chaos in Macedonia," dpa quoted Boskovski as saying. Critics charge that the Lions are a paramilitary arm of the governing Internal Macedonian Revolutionary Organization (VNRO-DPMNE) that behaves as if it were above the law. UB
MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS PENAL CODE
The Moldovan parliament unanimously approved the country's new Penal Code on 18 April, Flux reported. Approval of a new code was one of the main obligations assumed by Chisinau upon its acceptance into the Council of Europe in 1995. ZsM
ITALY, TURKEY EXPRESS SUPPORT FOR BULGARIA'S NATO, EU ACCESSION BIDS
Speaking at a press conference on 18 April, Italian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Italy will continue to support Bulgaria's efforts to join NATO and the EU, BTA reported. Berlusconi was on a one-day official visit to Bulgaria that focused on economic cooperation between the two countries. Berlusconi proposed a number of ideas to boost Bulgaria's image in Italy, but no concrete measure were adopted. The same day, Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit told Bulgarian Interior Minister Georgi Petkanov, who is on an official visit to Turkey, that his country will support Bulgaria's NATO accession bid. Turkish Interior Minister Rustu Kazim Yucelen stressed the need to expand bilateral cooperation in combating terrorism and the illegal trafficking of humans and drugs. UB
EUROPEAN PEOPLE'S PARTY CRITICIZES BULGARIA'S NATIONAL MOVEMENT SIMEON II
In an interview published in the daily "Trud" on 19 April, Wilfried Martens, the chairman of the European People's Party (EPP), heavily criticized the ruling National Movement Simeon II (NDSV). Martens said in the interview: "On the basis of the information we have so far, we are extremely critical of the NDSV... [We are critical] of their policy, the lack of internal democracy, and their cooperation with former communists [those of the Bulgarian Socialist Party]." He added that the EPP will continue to cooperate with the conservative Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) headed by former Foreign Minister Nadezhda Mihailova. At its founding convention on 6 April, the NDSV leadership announced its willingness to meet the EPP's criteria. UB
ADOPTION ISSUE MAY CLOUD ROMANIA'S NATO PLANS
The poor state of Romania's orphanages and child-care institutions -- and the relatively high number of foreign adoptions -- have long been a point of embarrassment for the country.
EU officials have made the problem an issue in Romania's bid to join the EU and over the past year have pressed the country to suspend all foreign adoptions.
Now, criticism is coming from another direction that could slow Romania's entry into the NATO military alliance.
The "Financial Times" on 6 April reported on the existence of a note from U.S. officials to the European Commission telling the commission that Romania must resume the international adoptions. The note, allegedly written by U.S. officials in Brussels, said if the moratorium continues, it could prompt "questions" into Romania's NATO bid by members of U.S. Congress.
The report said the adoptions ban caused concern in the U.S., given the large number of American families seeking to adopt Romanian children. The U.S. Embassy in Bucharest last week denied that Washington has tied lifting the adoption moratorium to Romania's NATO bid. The embassy would not comment on the existence of the note or its contents.
Romanian government spokesman Claudiu Lucaci said, however, that Romania has included the adoption issue among its priority measures for NATO admission. "This is a sensitive issue in America, and issues concerning the situation of Romania's institutionalized children and international adoptions were raised in talks between U.S. officials and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase during his U.S. visit last year," Lucaci said. "But there were no explicit references to international adoption cases. Furthermore, this issue is not new and Romanian officials do not discuss it only with the U.S. administration. This issue has been mentioned even in Romania's priority-measures program for NATO admission."
Romania's tens of thousands of abandoned children are a legacy of the policies of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, who banned abortion in the country. After the fall of communism, a shocked world saw images of abandoned children -- some infected with the HIV virus that causes AIDS.
Although the situation is improving, more than 60,000 children still live in state orphanages, while some 30,000 have been placed with foster parents. Almost 20,000 children in Romania have been adopted by foreigners since the fall of communism. U.S. families alone over the past two years adopted more than 1,500 Romanian children. But since the ban came into force in June, an estimated 3,500 international adoptions have been blocked.
David Livianu is president of the Foundation for American Assistance for Romania (FAAR) -- a nonprofit organization that deals with adoptions of Romanian children. Livianu, a Romanian-born U.S. citizen, represents many American families whose adoption cases have been frozen. "There is an extraordinarily high number of [U.S.] families who helped Romanian kids from 1990 until now, and U.S. families are now worried, of course, by the orphans' current situation, especially older kids, between five to 12 years old, who cannot be reintegrated into [Romanian] families and who [U.S. citizens] want to help by offering them a good family that can give them a better life," Livianu said.
The government in Bucharest says it favors reintegrating institutionalized children into Romanian society and regards international adoptions as a last-resort measure.
Spokesman Lucaci said that some $7 million was allotted this year alone to that purpose, and that the government is preparing a package of laws to regulate the situation of institutionalized children. "Approximately eight laws are to be completed by the end of summer or the beginning of fall. There is a very accurate calendar for these measures to come into force," Lucaci said. "At the same time, the Romanian government is holding talks with the European Commission and the European Parliament rapporteur for Romania, [Baroness Emma] Nicholson, as well as the U.S. administration so that this very sensitive issue is resolved in favor of the [institutionalized] children," Livianu added.
The U.S. Embassy in Bucharest says the U.S. encourages Romania's efforts. But the embassy notes that there were several hundred families whose adoption cases were in the pipeline when the moratorium came into force. Romania's government has said it will review the cases that began prior to the adoption moratorium.
"Unfortunately, [international adoption] is an extremely politicized issue, and the EU vision somehow differs from the U.S. vision on international adoption, in parallel with maternal assistance or foster care, as it is called here in the U.S.," Livianu said. "Such divergent perspectives are catching Romania in the middle -- which is being pulled either in one direction or the other by such different ways of tackling the problem of children in need."
A draft report on the situation of Romania's institutionalized children has added to the controversy. The report, issued in April by a group of independent experts and due to be presented this week in Brussels, recommends a one-year extension of the moratorium.
It said that since the ban came into force in June, the number of domestic adoptions by Romanian families has grown considerably.
However, critics say the overall adoption rate is now very slow compared to the number of institutionalized children -- more than 80,000. They argue that maintaining the moratorium on international adoptions will deny many children their basic right to be in a family.